Donald Trump’s legal-ish ties to Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain
February 13, 2017
Two lodges eyed for the Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain have more in common than their close proximity to each other. Look no further that their connections to President Donald Trump.
The proposed Gorsuch Haus, which goes before Aspen City Council tonight for a public hearing, is the product of Norway Island LLC, whose chief principals are Jim DeFrancia, Bryan Peterson and Jeff Gorsuch. Gorsuch is a cousin of Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee for the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
As was expected, Trump didn't set liberal-leaning Pitkin County on fire in the November presidential contest and attracted 2,550 votes, good enough for 24.2 percent.
Gorsuch spokesman Allyn Harvey, however, said the Trump-Gorsuch ties are a non-factor when it comes to the project's chances of passing.
"No, we aren't concerned about the Neil Gorsuch nomination," Harvey said in an email to The Aspen Times on Friday. "I know Jeff wishes the best for his cousin. The community is focused on the Gorsuch Haus proposal, as expected. It represents a great opportunity to bring lodging and dining back to Aspen's original base area and put in a new, badly needed lift."
Trump's link to Lift One, which is eyed to be built beneath the site of the Gorsuch Haus, also can be found in the legal realm, but not of the Supreme Court variety. Lift One Lodge is being proposed by brothers Aaron and Michael Brown, along with Los Angeles developer Jason Grosfeld.
Grosfeld built the Trump International Hotel and Tower at Waikiki Beach Walk in Hawaii and also partnered with Trump on a resort in Baja Mexico. The Baja project never got off the ground, however, sparking a lawsuit from buyers who said they combined to lose more than $20 million on the project, according to published reports.
In October 2012, the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered Grosfeld to pay $7.25 million as part of a settlement, while Trump, who was co-defendant in the suit, protested the settlement, saying that Grosfeld should have paid the entire $20 million. Trump denied having any involvement in the project other than providing his name.
The Gorsuch Proposal
In the weeks leading to tonight's public hearing, both newspapers have published letters championing and criticizing the Gorsuch Haus proposal, which includes 70,134 square feet of floor area.
Advocates claim the hotel would re-energize the Lift 1A side of Ajax that currently is staid, lifeless and lacking in skier amenities. Opponents argue the project's scale and size are out of step with a quaint area of the mountain prized for its rich skiing heritage and low-key charm.
Tonight's meeting will be the latest in a series of hearings regarding the project; because it is a public hearing, residents and observers can express their opinions to the council in the open setting. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. in City Council Chambers; the Gorsuch hearing is the last item on the agenda.
The Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission already has taken a stance against the project, voting 6-0 on Sept. 20 that the City Council deny the Gorsuch Haus. Planning and Zoning first reviewed the project July 5.
In December, the City Council voted 4-0 in support of the project on first reading (Councilman Art Daily has recused himself from voting because he works for a law firm that represents developers of the project).
Despite council members' reservations about the project, Mayor Steve Skadron at the Dec. 20 hearing said he wanted to see the proposal advance in the approval process because of the time invested so far on the project.
"I think your project has a lot of pros and cons," he said at the time, noting "your project is entitled to a fair hearing."
To get off the ground, the project would need to be rezoned from its current "conservation" and "lodge" district to a "ski base area," or "SKI," district. As currently proposed, the project exceeds allowances for the conservation and lodge zoning district.
A SKI zone "permits hotels, multi-residential, affordable housing, retail and restaurant uses, ski and administrative offices, as well as ski areas," reads a Feb. 13 memo from the Community Development Department to the City Council.
The city adopted the SKI zone district in 2000 to accommodate the development of Aspen Highlands Village. It is the only area within the city that is a SKI-zoned district, the memo says.
Aspen Skiing Co., which is a partner on the project, also is expected to have representatives at tonight's meeting to provide details on the location of a new chairlift. The city also has enlisted neutral consultants to analyze the feasibility of a new lift for the site.
Other features of the project, which would encompass four parcels totaling more than 6 acres, include:
• 67-room lodge with 81 keys, with an average room size of 522 square feet. Seven of the units are proposed at two-bedroom units ranging from 1,450 to 1,500 square feet when not divided. Those units could be divided into three keys each.
• Six free-market residential units ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.
• 6,810 square feet of commercial space that would include a restaurant, retail and Skico operations.
• A sub-grade garage with 61 parking spaces.
• One on-site affordable-housing unit; affordable-housing mitigation, based on the calculation of 51.17 full-time employees, would include the one on-site unit for three employees, with the balance to be offset by off-site units or affordable-housing credits.
The hotel's maximum height would be 40 feet, with the average height set at 36.2 feet, according to project spokesman Allyn Harvey.
Community Development's memo to the council said the department is "concerned with the overall height and size of the building."
The plans for Lift One Lodge, meanwhile, have received U.S. Forest Service approval, but it still needs a look from local boards and commissions.